football Australia (FA) chief James Johnson was “horrified” at the scenes from Saturday’s Melbourne derby pitch invasion and is ready to hand out the “harshest of punishments” for those involved.
Saturday’s game at AAMI Park between Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City saw flares thrown by both sets of fans during the first 22 minutes, before trouble escalated when a flare appeared to hit a pitch-side cameraman before exploding.
City goalkeeper Tom Glover threw another flare back into the crowd, inflaming the situation, before fans behind the goal stormed the pitch, with Glover being hit in the face with a metal bin that had been used for other flares. Referee Alex King was also caught up in the incident, before taking the two teams off the pitch, with the game later abandoned amid unruly scenes.
Glover was left bloodied with a cut to the right side of his face, with City stating he had been concussed from the incident.
“I’ll start with saying that I’m horrified, I’m irritated, I’m angry at the scenes witnessed at AAMI Park last night,” Johnson told reporters on Sunday. “A full investigation will take place and those responsible will face the harshest of punishments.”
The ground invasion comes amid rising tensions between administrators and fans in Australian football following the Australian Premier Leagues’ decision to sell the men’s and women’s A-Leagues grand finals the rights to their grand finals to the New South Wales government, having previously been hosted by the highest-ranked team.
Johnson said the fans who ran onto the AAMI Park pitch were an unwanted “element” in the game, insisting the code was “safe” in Australia.
The FA boss strongly condemned their behaviour and made clear that heavy sanctions would be forthcoming.
“We will be moving swiftly and we will be taking the strongest sanctions that are available,” Johnson said. “This is an element that goes beyond football, it’s an element that infiltrates our game, and that really tried to ruin it for the two million people who love our sport. It’s those people that we will be targeting in this investigation and who we will weed out of the sport.
“There is no justification for the behaviour we saw last night. I don’t care about people that think the decision for the GF is wrong or right. Anyone who thinks that justifies behaviour is completely out of touch.
“People that behave like this, I don’t call them fans and I won’t call them fans. What is important is our response – that is simple, there is no place in our sport for that behaviour and people that act like that will be weeded out and weeded out quickly.”
Extremely disappointing. Regardless of what has happened, this is not the way to respond and only gives the game a bad look.
— Craig Goodwin (@craig_goodwin11)
Several other fan groups held “peaceful protests” about the grand final decision at the 20th-minute mark at A-League games across the competition over the weekend.
Johnson added: “football is very safe. Two million people play it week in, week out. We saw in all the other A-League games that were played over the weekend, peaceful protests, and that’s OK – fans have are OK to express their views in a peaceful way.
“The way that some individuals conducted themselves at the Melbourne Victory game is not acceptable, and I think that is specific to that match.
“I don’t think that it is a reflection on the broader game. We’re the biggest sport country in terms of participants. This does not happen in local football. It doesn’t happen at national team level. It doesn’t happen at the NPL level, and it hasn’t happened in the other A-League games.
“I don’t think though that a group of individuals that participated in unacceptable behaviour in one match is a reflection of how the broader sport is.
“The small group of people, the 100-150 odd people that invaded the pitch, they need to be the target, not the broader sport. We will be targeting those individuals and ensuring that they no longer participate in our sport.”
Johnson said the FA would work with the Australian Premier Leagues (APL), who run the A-Leagues, on appropriate sanctions for Victory, whose fans flooded the pitch.
Victory managing director Caroline Carnegie also strongly condemned the fan behaviour when speaking to reporters on Sunday, insisting it “has no place at our club”.
I cannot believe what I’ve just seen… every single fan that was involved should take a good hard look in the mirror and never walk into a football stadium again.
— Stefan Mauk (@StefanMauk)